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Amidst the hype from the converted and the disdain from the old guard, and the relentless search for the next big hitting poster boy, two factors will play a big part in determining who wins the ICC World T20 in Bangladesh. The marketing people won’t have much to do with it, and the wannabe celebs searching for the photo-ops won’t care for it either. But the square in the centre of the ground and the boundaries along the circumference will hold the attention of the teams more than anything else. There is a reason for it. (FULL COVERAGE: ICC World T20)
I was at Mirpur for the last five games of the Asia Cup and on four of the five days, the pitches had a tired look to them. On one of the days 650 runs were scored but when the track was used again, it produced a completely different match. Now, while those pitches won’t be used at the ICC World T20, it is true that a square tends to play fairly identically across the pitches that constitute it.
The three central pitches, then well grassed, were set aside for this tournament but since they cannot be protected, they would have seen a lot of trampling on them. There has also been a lot of cricket played at Mirpur this season and during the tournament, those three pitches, unless a corner pitch is used occasionally, will see twenty one t20 games played on them. That is a lot of matches and the fear is that they will look increasingly worn out as the tournament progresses. Luckily with summer upon us, and the alternate days off, the groundsman will have time to repair them but the general feeling is that we might see slowish pitches.
The spinners will welcome that but they will need a bit of help with the boundaries. At the Asia Cup the boundaries were ridiculously short. We had sixes being awarded for 65 and 67 metre hits and with modern bats that should never ever be allowed. It doesn’t only reduce the effectiveness of spinners, it makes it a lesser sport when mishits clear the boundary.
At the ICC U19 World Cup in Dubai some of the boundaries were more than 80 metres long and it will be terrible if the kids have to play on big grounds while the big daddies play on sugar coated boundaries. So if we can get boundaries that are at least 75 metres away, the spinners could well call the tune in Bangladesh. (I must admit this article is more about Dhaka since I don’t know the conditions in Chittagong but being Bangladesh it cannot be too different!)
On the face of it, it would seem the Asian sides would start with an advantage. That certainly was the case some years ago, notably when the Champions Trophy was played in Sri Lanka in 2002 for example, but that advantage has been eroded a bit in recent times as teams change character and play more and more on the sub-continent. Certainly the West Indies no longer mind playing on slower surfaces, since their game is now built around taking pace off the ball rather than imparting a lot on it as their great sides did while scaring the daylights out of the opposition! And Australia, the fourth team that plays the early games in Dhaka, is now a genuinely all weather side in T20 cricket.
So while it may not hurt the opposition as much as it used to, it will still allow India, Pakistan and, to a slightly lesser extent, Sri Lanka to raise their game. On flat batting surfaces India, for example, will start with a huge disadvantage given the bowling weaknesses but if the pitches make the ball stop and turn, India can not only play three spinners but also call on Yuvraj and Raina to bowl, potentially getting through 15 out of the 20 overs with spin.
I can see England being disadvantaged and, to a lesser extent, South Africa and New Zealand, but Sri Lanka, Pakistan and the West Indies will be quite happy to play on slowish pitches. They will like to play 150-160 kind of games.
However if the groundsman springs a surprise and produces batting beauties, expect a more open tournament with Australia, maybe, front runners and New Zealand, as the dark horses. (FULL COVERAGE: ICC World T20)